THE INNOCENTS (2021) is a dark Norwegian film about a group of children who befriend each other over a summer and discover they have paranormal abilities, leading to a tense battle between good and evil. While a bit plodding and visually bare, it slowly ramps into a gripping portrait of childish cruelty and the formation of ethics. I liked this one a lot.
When nine-year-old Ida moves to a housing complex with her parents and older nonverbal, autistic sister Anna, she is feeling resentful. When Anna annoys her–which is often, as Anna gets the lion’s share of attention–Ida pinches her leg, knowing her sister won’t respond. At the housing complex, Ida wanders around bored and looking for someone to play with, at one point stomping on a worm just to see what would happen if she does. Eventually, she meets two other children: Aisha, who has the power of telepathy, which enables her to “talk” to Anna and talk through her, and Ben, who has a minor power of telekinesis. Anna appears to have some power herself. As they all hang out together, they find this proximity sharpens their powers.
Children are pure and innocent, but they can also be cruel as they are still learning ethics and testing their instinctive sense of morality. Ben has been bullied by older kids and we infer ignored and belittled by his mother, making him angry and powerless. But he is powerless no longer. The same cruel urge that leads some kids to pull the wings off flies is now channeled to humans, upon which he can act with impunity. This leads to a choosing of sides and an all-out psychic war.
What an odd juxtaposition of elements exists in this film. Much of the time, we see the kids just being kids. Friends one minute, enemies the next, then the next day doing it all over again in a banal and visually bland setting of family life in a housing complex. As viewers, we’re in their world, a world the adults rule but don’t really live in, full of laughter and fear and play and sometimes outright cruelty. Now throw in paranormal abilities posing an existential threat, and it’s too big for them to handle, much less even articulate. This is a battle of good versus evil among kids just learning what these things really mean, a battle driven by fear of what the other might do, a too-early coming of age through violence and power.
So yeah, overall, I really liked this one. I didn’t enjoy every aspect of it, but the themes were thought provoking, the story distinguished if not unique, the performances by the child actors terrific. As for the story, I found the kids’ quiet, private little war agonizingly gripping, the showdown satisfying if tragically sad.
Warning: violence toward children and animals.